Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Importance of Critics

Sure I grouse now and then about critics...  Theater people do.

Eventually everyone gets a slighting review and it's no fun when a critic doesn't like a show you've invested a lot of time, thought, work, and blood into.  It's downright maddening when the critic just flat misses the point.  (That sometimes happens.)  Then again, we all enjoy a good review.  But - beyond the tender-ego issues - critics are important.

They keep artists honest.

No one ever intends to be a lazy designer or to phone-in a performance.  No one plans a flop.  Self-respect, honest craftsmanship, and peer pressure all encourage good work.  But there's no motivation quite like public praise or the public pillory!  Bad reviews work like the ol' throw-stones-at-the-miscreant system of justice: if praise is motivating, so is bruising.

For this reason, I wish architects had more critics.

I especially wish local architects had a critic.  The late David Dillon was once on-staff architecture critic for The Dallas Morning News, one of the few in the country.  He was especially good at explaining the complex relationships between real estate interests, politics, power, and money that shape large building developments.  He also had a good sense of architectural form and design, I thought.  Perhaps his reviews were a little too often about Important Buildings Elsewhere or Important Out-of-Town Architects (not helping Dallas' inferiority complex any), but he did  hold local architects to higher standards.  He made Architecture (capital A) a topic for discussion.  Which helps.

I'm saddened to say that New York City, the country, indeed the world-wide architecture conversation, has lost a very good critic with the recent death of Ada Loise Huxtable.

Photo of Ada Louise Huxtable from Atlantic Yards Report

Starting in The New York Times in 1963 and writing her last piece for The Wall Street Journal last month, Ada Louise Huxtable helped set the tone of architectural discussion for half a century.  She was an early advocate for historic preservation.  She wrote several books including Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard? which I read in school long ago... and which remains wonderfully biting and relevant.    She even received her share of criticism of her own work - including a Pulitzer and a MacArthur "genius" grant, which is not bad.

We need more critics this good.

Read this this article HERE for an interesting discussion of the role of architecture critics today (well, 2006).  Or look in the Set Design Archive  HERE  for my earlier posts on "Critics & Reviews."

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